Living History – The Man Behind “Mawhinney Hall”

Thousands of students study in Mawhinney Hall every year, but most may not know thecropped Mawhinney Hall sign story of the person whom the building is named after. His role in the creation and growth of Onondaga Community College can not be overstated. His willingness to give of himself for the greater good is something we can all learn from. This is his remarkable story.

Donald Mawhinney Jr. is a member of our greatest generation. He was born in 1926 and served his country as a member of the United States Army during World War II having enlisted at age 17. In the 1940s he served in the Infantry, Army Air Corps as a B-24 Bomber nose gunner, Second Lieutenant Cavalry, First Lieutenant Armored as a Tank Platoon Commander.

Mawhinney's guide was his daughter, Joyce MacKnight.

Mawhinney’s guide was his daughter, Joyce MacKnight.

On April 25, 2015 Mawhinney and approximately 80 other veterans travelled to Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flight Syracuse, a not-for-profit organization which provides veterans the opportunity to visit the national memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The journey is a gift to the veterans at no cost to them. “It was such an uplifting day. So many people were involved and went out of their way to plan and execute this event. It was an honor to be included,” said Mawhinney.

Mawhinney visits the World War II Memorial.

Mawhinney visits the World War II Memorial.

The day started early with a 7 a.m. flight out of Syracuse. Each veteran was paired up with a guide who would help them navigate through their various stops in the capital region. Mawhinney’s guide was one of his four children, daughter Joyce MacKnight. She helped her father through visits to the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. They also saw the Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Iwo Jima Monument. During their tour they were treated to an unannounced visit from Martin E. “Marty” Dempsey, a United States Army General and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He came on his own, introduced himself to each of us and shook each of our hands. He was so gracious. It was very impressive and meant a lot to all of us.”

Nearly 12 hours after Honor Flight took off from Syracuse, the U.S. Airways jet carrying them returned to Hancock International Airport. As the veterans and their guides made their way into the terminal they saw hundreds of family and friends who had assembled for a welcome home ceremony. “It was such an emotional feeling to come into that airport and see so many people. I will never forget that feeling.”

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The entire day was one more memorable chapter in Mawhinney’s life story. He grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Nottingham High School where he was elected president of the student body. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to Hamilton College at the Army’s expense. “D-Day hit and everything changed. I was allowed to finish the semester, then was sent to Fort Dix (New Jersey).” During World War II Mawhinney would also serve at military bases in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Alabama, California and Kentucky. He dreamed of a position in counter intelligence and as the war was ending he was offered one in Japan. “I knew I had seven years of college ahead of me and decided to return home.” Mawhinney earned his bachelor’s degree at Hamilton College and his law degree at Cornell University.

Mawhinney began practicing law in New York State in 1952 as a member of the Wall Street law firm of Beekman & Bogue. In 1954 he joined the Syracuse law firm now known as Hiscock & Barclay, LLP where he still has an office. Throughout his career Mawhinney has served the Central New York community admirably.

  • He was a member of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors (now known as the Onondaga County Legislature) from 1958 to 1965.
  • In 1961 Mawhinney was appointed a founding trustee of Onondaga Community College which opened its doors to students in 1962. He has held multiple leadership positions with the Board of Trustees and the OCC Foundation. Today he is the longest-serving trustee in the entire 64-campus State University of New York system. He is also the longest continuously serving community college trustee in the United States and Canada.
  • Belongs to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Advisory Council, American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel, American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, Onondaga County Bar Association, American Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Association International Law Section, and the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates.
  • Mawhinney was a delegate to the Fifth Judicial District Convention for the selection of candidates for New York Supreme Court judgeships.
  • He was a founding trustee of the Erie Canal Museum and served as chairman and trustee for 48 years.
  • Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Mawhinney chairman of the New York State Erie Canal Park Planning Committee.
  • Served on the boards of Hope for Bereaved, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Americanization League, Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Foundation, Syracuse Governmental Research Bureau, Better Business Bureau of Greater Syracuse, Syracuse Symphony, Board of Trustees of the Association of Community Colleges in SUNY, and the New York Community College Trustees Association Foundation.
  • Mawhinney was a member of the New York Seniors Golf Association, Century Club, Onondaga Golf & Country Club, Gyro Club, Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion, St. Andrew’s Society, Eastside Racquet Club, Sedgwick Farms Tennis Club, University Club, and the Liederkranz Club.
  • He was a New York State Delegate to the 1988 Far East Conference with Lawyers’ Associations in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
OCC named a building in Mawhinney's honor in 2006.

OCC named a building in Mawhinney’s honor in 2006.

Mawhinney’s lengthy list of honors and recognition is equally impressive.

  • Selected by the Syracuse Community as the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “1962 Man of the Year.”
  • Earned “Distinguished Service in Trusteeship” recognition from the National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
  • Received the “Association Distinguished Service Award” for 30 years of participation in New York Association of Community College Trustees activities.
  • Recognized by the State of New York Association of Community College Trustees for service as its president.
  • Honored with a life membership in the national Association of Community College Trustees.
  • Received the “United States Northeast Region Trustee Leadership Award” from the national Association of Community College Trustees.
  • Given the “Anne M. Bushnell Award for Extraordinary Leadership and Special Achievement” from the New York Association of Community College Trustees.
  • In 2006 a building on the OCC campus known as Academic One was renamed Mawhinney Hall.
  • In 2010 he was placed on Nottingham High School’s Wall of Fame.

It has been and continues to be a wonderful life for the 88-year-old Mawhinney, and he’s treasured it each step of the way. “I feel very fortunate for everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been allowed to do. I’ve made and worked with so many great friends along the way. It’s been great.”

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